You perform much better academically when your friends, instead of your teachers, provide you with answers to the famous question: “Why Should I Learn This?”. This is the conclusion of new research conducted by a team from Michigan State University. One’s peers are better able to inspire one to study than one’s teachers.
Students will often wonder as to why learning this chapter or that course is important. When people in the same position as them give them an explanation thereof, their academic performance is boosted. The new research was focused on university students: the participants were given a rationale for the importance of the course they were studying, and how it was beneficial for their prospective careers, by actors pretending to be young professionals. This group of students was compared with another one who received the same rationale from their course instructor. The former interaction proved to be more fruitful as the students, thereafter, authored much better essays, and scored final grades that were significantly better than their counterparts who were given the very same explanations from their teacher; the rationales given by the two parties were identical as they were scripted by the researchers.
Why were peers better able to drive home the same point (with the same words) that the course instructor made? It is all about connection. Students identify with their peers, such that they are able to put themselves in each other’s shoes as to using a course material in a similar manner. This infuses meaning into the material, explains co-author Cary Roseth—the students develop a sense of purpose, and they don’t just memorise the information.
“When I hear a peer’s story, it connects to the story I am telling myself about who I want to be in the future,” says Roseth.
On the other hand, instructors only put across cold facts.
The average final grade of the students who were given the peer rationale was 92% while that of the other students was at 86%. Another interesting finding is that students who received no rationale from either party had an average final grade of 90%. Commenting on this, Roseth said that the instructor rationale resulted in lower final grades: she explained that “the fact that instructors control grades, tell the students what do to, and so on, may be working against their efforts to increase their students’ appreciation of why the class is important”.
Moral of the story: teachers might want to provide their students with peer rationales instead of themselves explaining it to them.
It is to be noted that this research is the first one looking into how peer and instructor rationales affect student performance.